I arrived in Peru almost three weeks ago to the beautiful city of Arequipa where I met up with two of my friends Keiko and Nathan. Keiko had been living in Peru with a host family for a few months, so Nathan and I were lucky enough to not only have someone who spoke Spanish, but who could also show us how to avoid tourist traps, eat locally, and immerse ourselves in real Peruvian culture! You can follow her experiences from Peru here: Adventures in Peru. In Arequipa, one of the first things I noticed was how antique the architecture seemed to be. The buildings had a very medieval and renaissance style appearance similar to old structures I had seen in Paris. Many large wooden doors, archway passages, and iron gates as you walk through the streets.
As you pass through the main square (plaza de armas), it gets even more traditional with a beautiful fountain in the center surrounded by shops on every corner. Some of the streets were still cobblestone and large rubber chains were sectioning off certain landscaped areas. We sat in this square soaking in the sun for a few minutes before continuing on.
TIP: Wait until you arrive to get a trek to Machu Picchu or any other attraction you want to see in Peru. Thanks to this year being the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, and the increased number of local peruvians and internationals descending on the site, we weren’t even able to book a trek in advance online before arriving. As we walked down the streets in Arequipa we soon found out there were many tour agencies trying to sell different options for treks who have no other online presence. We were able to secure the trek we wanted to do for almost half what it would have costed had we reserved it online. It came out to around $250 a person as opposed to $510 initially on our online reservation. I’ll go over the trek in detail in another post, but this included 5 days with a guide, tents, porters to help carry up to 5 kilos on the first 3 days, cooks who make 3 meals a day for 4 days, and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu (which was about $50 itself). We laid down our bills and were set for a 5-day adventure, not sure about what awaited us.
A Panorama of the view from the roof:
How to get anything you want in Peru: ASK! It had been two nights sleeping in airports on the way to Arequipa, so we felt very tired after a couple hours in the town and wanted nothing more than a soft bed to crash on, even if only for a few hours. We suddenly had the crazy idea of asking a hostel on the street if they would let us stay in one of their rooms for a few hours for a fee. Couldn’t hurt to ask right? Well, it’s a good thing we did! The gracious host of the hostel let us not only stay, but gave us a nice spot on the roof with a beautiful view of the city and a fold-out mattress to relax on for free! We couldn’t have been more thankful and we took a much needed nap in the warm sun under Arequipa. Let me know if you’re looking for a good place to stay in Arequipa because I can definitely let you know!
One thing I’m very passionate about in the US is supporting the local farmers in the community who produce fresh, in-season, and typically pesticide-free produce that tastes far better than the genetically modified produce found in supermarkets. So whenever I visit a new town, city or country, I love to see how their local food system works. I was happily surprised to see a very thriving local food supply chain with fresh produce coming from farmers and being sold in small and large farmers markets. In fact, over the trip I only passed by a few supermarkets which were closer to suburban areas, so I was glad to see farmers still able to get their fresh produce to the masses. I happily indulged in many fruits available at the market in Arequipa including white peaches, mandarins, small peruvian pears, and some delicious bananas.
Flight of the Condors – Colca Canyon just outside Arequipa
We ended up passing through Arequipa twice during our trip: on the first day we landed en route to Cuzco and on the way back from Cuzco after our trek of Machu Picchu. We planned this first of all because we wanted to take buses as opposed to planes to save money ($50 bus ride as opposed to a $200+ domestic plane ticket). And we came up with an itinerary that allowed us to travel by night buses, forgoing the cost of hostels in many cases. This made for a lot of thrifty traveling and not the most comfortable of nights, but allowed us to experience quite a few new cities very quickly and efficiently. Just knowing we were in South America was enough to keep us energized every day we woke up early on a bus ride. On the way back from Cuzco, after our long 5-day trek to Machu Picchu, we finally got much needed rest at a hostel in Arequipa and used the day to recuperate. Most of our time was spent doing our laundry, sleeping in, and buying gifts for friends and family back home. We didn’t have much time to rest however, because beginning at 4am the next morning we were heading to Colca Canyon which is one of the main attractions near Arequipa. It’s a canyon a couple miles deeper than the Grand Canyon at its lowest point, and there’s a lookout point in one area for an endangered bird known as the Condor. Below you can see a panorama of the point with everyone gathering awaiting a possibly flyby of a Condor. We were lucky enough to spot 2 or 3 for a few minutes during the hour and a half we spent there. It was quite a sight seeing such a massive bird flying just overhead.
Check out the Panorama of our view from there:
The canyon itself and the path to it was very beautiful as well:
Arequipa is a very beautiful town if you time to go around. The people, architecture, traditional food, and many day trip options. There seems to be quite a few universities and schools in the downtown area of the city as well. We happened to encounter one of the schools practicing a dance in the middle of the street:
In the next post I’ll be covering our experience in the high altitude city of Cuzco, the jumping off point for many treks, trains, and expeditions towards Machu Picchu.